Not Perfect; Never Perfect

 

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If I could write the perfect blog, I would. Believe me, I would. I like to think I’d refuse because “imperfection is beautiful”, but think about it. Perfect. Perfection is perfect. Perfect posts. The perfect blog. I spend a lot of time striving to be as close to perfect as possible.

However, I’m not perfect. My stories are imperfect. My phrasing is awkward. My blog design can be hard to read or not have that exact feel I want it to have. I make typos. My old posts make me cringe. I give bad advice. I regret some of my past reviews. I change my opinions.

And what’s more, this imperfection is never going to go away. I will never do everything “perfectly”. There will always be those weird posts, those blah posts, those mind numbingly stupid posts. Maybe sometimes I know they’re bad but I post them anyway because I’m tired or I feel like exposing my imperfection at its peak. Maybe I think it’s alright but come to regret it in future. There are technological glitches, like WordPress publishing my posts before they’re fully updated. And of course, there are the typos – there are always typos.

But the only remedy would be to never post. And I love blogging. I love sharing my thoughts with the world. I love discussing ideas with you all. I love the satisfaction of seeing a newly published post on a newly designed theme. I love the process of writing. I love writing pages and talking about my stories.

In a sense, it’s an either/or situation – no blog or imperfect blog? And my choice is easy. You won’t get any perfect posts here. But you will get to see me and my thoughts, in all their imperfect glory.

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Project Book Analysis (The Robe)

20140820-101957.jpgWhat is Project Book Analysis? Click on the picture above to read my introductory post.

A reread of The Robe has reminded me just how much I love this novel. If you backed me into a corner and demanded I name just one favorite book, I would have to say this one.

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The premise is an intriguing one. The Robe is the story of Marcellus, a Roman soldier who crucifies Jesus and wins His robe in a game of dice. He sets about discovering more about Jesus and Christianity.

The viewpoint of the “antagonist” generally perks a lot of interest, and indeed, it is interesting to see what some of Jesus’ executioners and “enemies” were thinking.

Note: Spoilers ahead

The main plot line is Marcellus’ gradual conversion from skeptical patrician to courageous believer. And the stories main plot points are as follows:

– Marcellus crucifies Jesus
– Marcellus touches the robe and is healed; he begins to believe there might be something more to Jesus
– Marcellus begins his travels with Barsabbas Justus
– Marcellus announces his belief in Lydia’s story
– Marcellus believes in Jesus’ divinity after seeing Stephen die
– Marcellus confesses his crime to Peter
– Marcellus makes a great sacrifice in giving up his marriage to Diana
– Marcellus converts the people of Arpino, accomplishing part of his mission as a Christian witness
– Marcellus goes to Rome as is his vocation
– Marcellus gives up his life

One key point about his conversion is “gradual”. It takes a while for Marcellus to finally believe in Jesus and this is realistic. His conversion is so gradual that it feels natural when he eventually becomes a believer. Things cannot happen all at once and they don’t.

The description really stood out to me. The book is chock full of detailed descriptions of every place. The details make the story feel real, but they are not boring. I think that’s because they are interwoven with personal reflections and tidbits on the culture at the time. Description is something I struggle with. I don’t enjoy writing it and many times, the surroundings are not even clear in my head. But it’s very important so that the reader is grounded in the story – plus, it’s a great place to add tiny info dumps.

For instance:

“Wedged tight against his arm, and grinning up into his face, was another Greek, older but smaller than himself; a slave, easily recognizable as such by the slit in his earlobe.”

And

“Everything in this immense peristyle dwarfed her; the tall marble columns that supported the vaulted roofs, the stately statues standing in their silent dignity on the close clipped grass, the high silver spray of the fountain. No matter how old she became, she would be ever a child here.”

Description is SO important.

Every scene interested me, which is surprising, as I do get bored in many books. What is it about this book that engages me? I’m thinking the humor is a big part. Most of the characters have a good sense of humor – Marcellus in particular. Just check out some of these snippets:

“‘You heard that message?’ he queried, abruptly.

‘Not if it was private, sir,’ Demetrius countered.”

And

“Demetrius held out his gift, ‘It was a long day, and I had no employment. I have been strolling about. Would you like some figs?’

Benjamin motioned to have the basket out down on the table beside him … ‘Did you say to yourself, “I must take that cross old Jew some of these nice figs” – or did you say “I want to ask Benjamin some questions, and I’ll take the figs along so he’ll think I just dropped in to be friendly”?’

‘They’re quite good figs, sir,’ said Demetrius.”

I just love the dialogue … The narration voice itself is nicely ironic.

Of course, the story has many problems. But I realize that even stories with significant problems can be amazing. There are many unnecessarily elaborate dialogue tags. However, I still skipped over them and hardly batted an eye. There is telling of emotions. But still, I was invested in the characters. The romance was rather … shaky. There is head hopping. Perhaps it is third person omniscient? But I doubt it. Douglas head hops, plain and simple. There are also several uses of “you”, but it works because of the dreamy, anecdotal way the story is told. And still, it’s my favorite book. And I don’t think I’d have noticed all this if not for all the writing craft I’ve been studying.

I love the diverse cast of characters. There’s good natured Marcellus, his Greek slave Demetrius, quiet, loyal, and ironic, and his thoroughly Roman family. There are biblical characters – it was fun to see how they were depicted. That’s another thing I love about this novel; it makes bible stories come alive. There’s Peter, the Big Fisherman, gruff and humorous Justus, Stephen the martyr, Pontius Pilate, and more. And then, of course, there is Jesus. However, He only makes one direct appearance and even then, He does not speak. This is, as Andrew M. Greeley says in his introduction to the story, a smart move on Douglas’ part. It preserves the greatness and elusiveness of Jesus that any author would have struggled to capture by showing Jesus only through other people’s anecdotes.

There is a wide cast of female characters, as well as males. True, there are fewer main female characters. However, Rome was dominated by males, the twelve apostles were males, and the main character is male, so it’s only natural that they figure more prominently in the story. There are Lucia and Diana, Roman girls. There’s Theodosia, a spunky Greek and Miriam, a crippled Jewess, singer, and Christian. And there are minor characters, all of whom do have lines: the empress Julia, Celia, Marcellus’ mother, Cornelia Gallio, Diana’s mother Paula, Tertia, the Macedonian twins, Naomi, Deborah, Rebekah, Ino, Phoebe, and Rhoda.

Then there are the royalty – Tiberias, Gaius, and Caligula. I’m curious to know whether they really are as insane as the story depicts. Because if they are, how in the world did they keep the throne so long? Sure, Caligula was assassinated, but he lasted a couple years. Wouldn’t someone – anyone – assassinate him? How could the people endure such a horrid ruler?

I’ll take a minute to discuss the romance. I can’t say I loved it all that much. At the beginning of the story, Marcellus looks on Diana as a child. He even calls her a “romping infant” and not really in jest. Then when Lucia mentions Diana’s feelings for him, he suddenly looks on her with new eyes and falls in love.

I’m no authority on the subject, but do such things really happen?

Suffice to say, it did happen. In Diana’s case, I would say she really did “fall in love”. She didn’t know Marcellus very well but she must have known something from her observations and Lucia’s conversation. As for Marcellus, it seems his was mostly physical attraction, coupled with the fact that she loved him.

Why, he hardly knows her and hardly spends time with her! I think such was common in those days, but still, it’s a shaky foundation for a relationship. But their relationship does hold up – at least, for the course of their short lives. Their love does carry them through and it is beautiful the way their relationship blossoms. I can’t say I really ship them. But their romance turned out well in the end.

Whenever I read this story, I’m struck by the fact that life seldom turns out as we humans plan. I should know from experience! In Marcellus’ case, Diana and his family are ecstatic to have Marcellus return home but it turns out he is mentally ill. When he recovers, his family’s happiness and his future life with Diana is spoiled because he himself has changed greatly from his encounter with Jesus. But in the end, their life turns out beautifully. Albeit bittersweet, there is a certain beauty in Marcellus and Diana’s strengthened relationship.

You know how you often catch things during rereads that you didn’t catch the first time? Well, I realized The Robe has a bit of foreshadowing. See this: “Demetrius, sauntering today along through a narrow ravine, laughed as he recalled that extraordinary question and it’s absurd answer.”

So, Demetrius did survive the end of the story! Marcellus’ initiation as Commander of Minoa is said to be recalled in the manner of a legend.

In conclusion, I really enjoyed rereading The Robe but what, my ever practical side asks, did you learn from it?

The story was good because of detailed descriptions paired with personal thoughts and tidbits of culture; an interesting and unique premise; lots of humor in both voice, dialogue, and action; interesting, sympathetic, and diverse characters with realistic character arcs; and an exciting and unpredictable plot. So, basically, the story scored on all the points that we’re told, as writers, to score.

And for the how? The description and humor explain themselves. I’ve discussed the premise. Marcellus’ character arc is a good example of a realistic character arc. The characters are great because of their humor, diverse personalities and backgrounds, and sympathetic qualities. But they have faults too. Certainly, they are not perfect. Marcellus, at the beginning, lives a life of luxury and tolerates – even approves of – the slavery and insanity going on around him. After he converts, he undergoes a big change, but he is still unmistakeably human, with his sometimes clumsy, sometimes laughably exaggerated, attempts to convert others.

As as for the plot, the old adage holds true. You cannot tell the reader everything or he/she will have no motivation to continue reading. But it is paramount that the reader is invested in the character and is not skimming the story.

I think another reason I love this story is the way it resounds with me. Freedom is one motif in the story and something very important to me. There are many interesting quotes, such as, “‘You could all do something about this unhappy world, if you would; but you won’t.'” and “‘The slave is indeed a predatory creature … He makes off with your best sandals when all you have stolen from him is his freedom.'”

I know from experience that this is the sort of story I like to read – I like to read something “deep”. I like to read of people’s souls – their inner desires, temptations, struggles, shackles, hopes, fears. I want to know that there’s something more, that we’re more than just animals and there’s beauty in our souls.

Project Book Analysis (Introduction)

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That title is weird. I’ve written a lot of book analyses for school, but this time, I’m doing a book analysis for fun.

Well, technically, it’s not just for fun. I’m back in the reading mood so I’m going to reread some of my favorite books and analyze what makes them so good. It will help me with my own writing – but I’m mostly just doing this because I get to work with my favorite books! How awesome is that?

I’ll share my thoughts on all the books in posts to come.

Some books I’ll be analyzing (I either have them or they’re easy to get):

The Lord of the Rings
Pride and Prejudice
Quo Vadis
The Robe
Northanger Abbey
A Tale of Two Cities
The Screwtape Letters
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
A Man For All Seasons (play)
Cyrano de Bergerac (play)

Take Me Tomorrow

imageI received a free review copy of this book from author Shannon A Thompson* – thanks, Shannon! I’ve been in a reading rut for the past few weeks and I wasn’t sure if I’d enjoy this story or not, but, I must say, I was impressed.

Here’s the blurb:

Two years after the massacre, the State enforces stricter rules and harsher punishments on anyone rumored to support tomo – the clairvoyant drug that caused a regional uprising.

But sixteen-year-old Sophia Gray has other problems.

Between her father’s illegal forgery and her friend’s troubling history, the last thing Sophia needs is an unexpected encounter with a boy.

He’s wild, determined, and one step ahead of her. But when his involvement with tomo threatens her friends and family, Sophia has to make a decision: fight for a future she cannot see or sacrifice her loved ones to the world of tomorrow.

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As the blurb says, a key part of this YA dystopian is tomo, an illegal drug that enables you to see the future. It is a touchy subject and I appreciate that the author tackled it. The story presents a fair view of drugs, showing both the good points and the bad ones. I have never thought of this in detail before. This novel made me think, all while the motif was naturally interweaved in the story.

The protagonist is Sophia, who is courageous, determined, and relatable. She made for a good narrator. I like the side characters very much. There’s Lyn, who takes the place of mother to Sophia. She cares deeply for Sophia but is willing to let her into danger when necessary. There are Sophia’s childhood friends, Lily and Miles, twins, and Broden. There’s Noah; his complexities are fascinating. Anthony is another interesting character.

I loved the various relationships – Sophia with her Dad and Lyn, Miles and Lily as twins, and Sophia, Broden, the twins, and Noah, as a tight knit, tumultuous group.

This brings me to another point. I feel the story would have benefitted from some extra character development. Sophia has three male teenage friends and while they do have differences, their personalities are similar enough that they become enmeshed. And there are other characters who would have benefitted from extra air time, like her father and Phelps. I do love the characters. I just want to know them better.

There is romance in this story, but it makes for a minor subplot. I enjoyed the romance. It was natural and it was sweet. I wasn’t happy with how Sophia’s crush treated her for much of the story. But I came to think they would make a good couple. 🙂

The pacing is excellent. About twenty pages in, I was absolutely hooked. I could not stop thinking about the story. I could not stop turning the pages. I mentioned a reading rut earlier. It was impossible to be in a rut with this. At the same time, the story was not so fast paced as to be choppy. I know how hard it is to get pacing right. It’s one of the marks of a good writer to do it well. 🙂

The plot was not predictable – and that’s the way I like it. There were a lot of untold secrets, a clever trick of the trade; that was part of what had me turning the pages obsessively. “What is this all about?” “Why is everyone doing this?” And I love it. I love the mystery and suspense.

I can’t say too much about the world because I don’t know it well enough. The story is short – an extra fifty pages of worldbuilding and character development would have been nice. What I know of the world feels quite believable but I can’t form a very clear picture of it. I especially want to know more about the government. There’s a curfew and knives have been outlawed. What else? Phelps employs criminals. Fascinating. I want to know more. There’s a lot of potential with the world.

The story finishes open ended so a sequel is quite possible. If ever one is released, I will certainly read it.

If you enjoy dystopian novels, or are looking for a suspenseful, thought provoking YA read, you should definitely give this one a go.

*Shannon blogs at http://shannonathompson.com/

How Many Blogs Does One Person Need?

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There’s nothing wrong with a lot of blogs, as long as the blogger can keep up with them all. But that’s not my case. I only actively use a handful of the blogs I’ve started. And that’s okay, too, I guess. But I do feel bad about using up so many domain names. I’ve used too many in my life, I don’t even want to give the number. Actually, I couldn’t give one anyway as I’ve forgotten. 

There are three reasons I change blogs:

1. I no longer like the name

2. The name doesn’t suit what I’m going to do

3. I want to start afresh

I tend to start blogs for all sorts of things so 2. happens quite often. 

But maybe there’s another factor at play here. You see, I’ve been moving around a lot these sixteen years. My family and I have moved to different countries a total of eight times. Eight times! And we have lived in at least sixteen different houses. A different house a year is sure to affect someone. What’s a girl to do? 

Of course, you’d think I want the same blog for some stability. But apparently not. 

However, this is, I am quite certain, the last blog change I’ll make, at least for a very looooong time. But then, that’s what I said the last times …

My Writing Life

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I’m conducting an interview of myself so if you’d like to get to know me better, read on.

Why do you write? The old adage … I write because I do. I can’t even say I enjoy it. Sure, I enjoy writing most of the time. But I want to write even when I don’t enjoy it. Writing comes so naturally for me. It’s not that I’m good at it. I just don’t want to not write. 

Through writing, I can explore the world. It’s like reading – if you don’t read, you’ve only lived one life. If you read, you can live thousands. But when it’s you who writes the story, you are in control. It’s like you really are living the life, exploring the world, having an adventure. 

Writing helps me express my thoughts more clearly and make sense of them. When I don’t write, I get so confused.

Writing is carthatic, and helps me deal with my pain.

I write because sometimes I get story ideas that “walk” into my head, so to speak, and they are screaming to be written. 

You know what? Sometimes I feel the urge to write but I have nothing to write. So I just write a jumble of stuff. 

What do you write? Anything, really. Okay, I’ll be more specific. I write fiction – speculative, contemporary, and historical. I write short stories, novellas, and novels. I write poetry, although I’ve been on a looong hiatus from it. I write songs. I write plays. I write blog posts. I write essays. I write gibberish. 

Where do you write? Anywhere. My dad says that nothing will stop me from writing. I write in the weirdest places, using my hands to support the paper so I can get the words on. I’ve written on cardboard boxes and napkins before. But my ideal writing place is probably my bed. It’s soft, cozy, and quiet. I also write on the floor and the sofa. Tables … nah. They give me neck and leg aches. I’d like to write in a tavern one day, though, just to find out if it really is conducive to my writing. 

When do you write? I think you know the answer to this question. I truly do write anytime, except for in the middle of the night. 

How do you write? Sometimes I get an idea and develop it in my head, composing phrases, then I transcribe it onto paper. Other times, I have a blank sheet of paper (or document) and pour out the words. 

“Pour out” makes it sound like I write quickly. I don’t, not unless I already know exactly what I want to write and that is rare. I don’t think very quickly, so writing can be a laboriously long process. But I love it anyway. 

Feel free to answer the questions on your own blog or in the comments.